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Transforming with levity: humor, leadership, and follower attitudes

Larry W. Hughes (Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington, USA)
James B. Avey (Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington, USA)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 28 August 2009

Abstract

Purpose

This study seeks to offer an empirical test of a model addressing how a leader's humor use will moderate the effects of a transformational leader style on follower attitudes, such as trust, identification, affective commitment, and job satisfaction.

Design/methodology/approach

Working adults (n=369) participated in a two‐phase data collection of self‐reported attitudes and their perceptions of leadership behavior. Perceptions of transformational leadership and humor were collected at Time 1. Trust, identification, affective commitment, and job satisfaction were collected a week later.

Findings

Results demonstrate significant relationships between transformational leadership and trust, identification, affective organizational commitment, and job satisfaction. The moderator effect was only supported in relationships between transformational leadership and both trust and affective commitment, suggesting that transformational leaders who are seen as using more humor rate higher on these outcomes than followers of low humor leaders.

Research limitations/implications

The primary limitation of the study is the potential for single source bias in that both perceptions of leader behavior and self‐reported attitudes were measured from the followers' perspectives.

Practical implications

The findings have several managerial implications. Primarily, a transformational leader who effectively uses humor might expect an effect on the outcomes explored here, but also on more distal results of which the study variables may be theoretically antecedent, such as job performance and turnover.

Originality/value

There has been little research on the influence of a leader's humor use on the relationships between transformational leadership and trust, identification, commitment and job satisfaction. The study augments the extant literature on these relationships.

Keywords

Citation

Hughes, L.W. and Avey, J.B. (2009), "Transforming with levity: humor, leadership, and follower attitudes", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 540-562. https://doi.org/10.1108/01437730910981926

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited